Study: Pollution Killed Nine Million People in 2015

Pollution claimed the lives of nine million people in 2015, one in every six deaths that year, according to a study published in The Lancet medical journal on Friday.

Almost all the deaths, 92 percent, happened in low- and middle-income countries, researchers said, with air pollution the main culprit.

Almost half of the total toll came from just two countries — India and China – they said.

In rapidly-industrialising countries such as India, Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Madagascar and Kenya, pollution can account for as many as one in four deaths, they added.

“Pollution and related diseases most often affect the world’s poor and powerless, and victims are often the vulnerable and the voiceless,” said co-author Karti Sandilya of Pure Earth, an anti-pollution NGO.

“As a result, pollution threatens fundamental human rights, such as the right to life, health, wellbeing, safe work, as well as protections of children and the most vulnerable.”

With global welfare losses of about $4.6 trillion (3.9 trillion euros) per year, the economic cost of pollution-related deaths and disease is also concentrated in the developing world. 

“Proportionally, low-income countries pay 8.3 percent of their gross national income to pollution-related death and disease, while high-income countries pay 4.5 percent,” said the researchers.

Aside from outright poisoning, pollution causes an array of deadly ailments such as heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The deadliest form, responsible for more than two-thirds of deaths, was air pollution, they added. 

In a separate comment, The Lancet editors Pamela Das and Richard Horton said the report came at a “worrisome time, when the US government’s Environmental Protection Agency, headed by Scott Pruitt, is undermining established environmental regulations.”

The latest findings, they added, should serve as a “call to action”.

Report: Japan Emperor Abdication Set for March 2019

Japan’s Emperor Akihito will step down on March 31, 2019 and the Crown Prince is expected to ascend the throne in April, a report said Friday, the first imperial retirement in more than two centuries.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet top officials and members of the royal household next month before announcing the date, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported, citing unnamed government sources.

Akihito’s eldest son, 57-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito, will ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne the next day on April 1, the paper said.

The popular 83-year-old Akihito shocked the country last year when he signalled his desire to take a back seat after nearly three decades, citing his age and health problems.

There have been abdications in Japan’s long imperial history, but the last one was more than 200 years ago.

In June, the parliament passed a rule allowing the ageing emperor to step down but the Asahi report is the first time a precise date for the abdication has been mooted.

“It is an immeasurable relief to me that his majesty … can now have days of rest as he reaches an advanced age,” Empress Michiko, who turned 83 Friday, said in a statement.

The abdication law, which applies only to Akihito and not to future emperors, included a resolution to debate letting female royals stay in the imperial family after marriage but did not touch on the controversial topic of allowing women to inherit.

Japan’s top government spokesman denied the Asahi report on Friday.

“We are not aware of the report and there is not such fact,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.

“We will continue to discuss appropriately and will do our best to carry out the emperor’s abdication smoothly,” he said.

Syrian Man Arrested in Greece Over Suspected ISIS Links

ISIS

A 32-year-old Syrian man was arrested Thursday in the northeastern Greek city of Alexandroupolis over suspected links with terrorist group ISIS, police said Friday.

The arrest came following a complaint that was his wife filed against him over domestic abuse, according to the police. She also told authorities that her husband was an ISIS supporter.

The man, who was not named, is expected to stand before a state prosecutor on Friday, police said.

The couple currently live with their two young children in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

They had requested asylum in northern Greece in June 2016, landing on the island of Leros following the peak of the migrant crisis.

A police official stated that the man was arrested for violating a restriction order imposed after his wife accused him of beating her and taking part in “terrorist acts.”

Police searched their home following his wife’s complaint and found data on his phone that they said support the allegations of ISIS links, a police official said, according to AFP.

“We are investigating his participation, and its extent, in past terrorist acts outside Greece,” police added.

UNICEF: Rohingya Refugee Children in Bangladesh Face ‘Hell on Earth’

Nearly 340,000 Rohingya children are seeing a “hell on earth” by living in squalid conditions in Bangladesh camps where they lack enough food, clean water and health care, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday.

Up to 12,000 more children join them every week, fleeing violence or hunger in Myanmar, often still traumatised by atrocities they witnessed, UNICEF said in a report “Outcast and Desperate.”

In all, almost 600,000 Rohingya refugees have left northern Rakhine state since Aug. 25 when the UN says the Myanmar army began a campaign of “ethnic cleansing.”

“This isn’t going to be a short-term, it isn’t going to end anytime soon,” Simon Ingram, the report’s author and a UNICEF official, told a news briefing in Geneva.

“These children just feel so abandoned, so completely remote, and without a means of finding support or help. In a sense, it’s no surprise that they must truly see this place as a hell on earth,” Ingram said.

The report comes ahead of a donor conference Monday in Geneva to drum up funding for the Rohingya.

The UN and humanitarian agencies seek $434 million for the Rohingya refugees — about one-sixth of which would go to UNICEF efforts to help children.

“Many Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh have witnessed atrocities in Myanmar no child should ever see, and all have suffered tremendous loss,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a statement.

UN agencies are still demanding access to northern Rakhine, where an unknown number of Rohingya remain despite UN
reports that many villages and food stocks have been burned.

“We repeat the call for the need for protection of all children in Rakhine state, this is an absolute fundamental
requirement. The atrocities against children and civilians must end,” Ingram said.

“We just must keep putting it on the record, we cannot keep silent,” he added.

Kirkuk in the Hands of Iraqi Forces after Clashes with Kurds

Iraqi forces took control of Altun Kupri on Friday, the last district in Kirkuk still in the hands of Kurds, following a three-hour battle, security sources said.

The town is 50 km far from the city of Erbil, the largest city in the Kurdistan region.

Kurdish forces withdrew from the town located on the Zab river, after clashing with Iraqi troops with machine guns, mortars and rocket propelled grenades, security sources added.

The Iraqi forces made further advancements into Kirkuk province as more Kurdish forces withdrew without fighting.

Iraqi forces are seeking to reestablish Baghdad’s authority over territory captured by the Kurdish Peshmerga outside the official boundaries of the Kurdistan region in the course of the war on ISIS militants, Reuters reported.

The Peshmerga had moved into Kirkuk after the Iraqi army fled the region in the face of ISIS’s advance in 2014.

The Kurdish move obstructed ISIS militants from taking control over Kirkuk’s oilfields.

“Details will be communicated later,” an Iraqi military spokesman said.

Drone Strike Kills 3 Qaeda Suspects in Yemen

A suspected US drone strike targeting a car killed three alleged Al-Qaeda members, including a leader in the southern Yemen province of Abyan, local officials said Friday.

They said the strike was carried out late Thursday in the Sumaa area of the province, engulfing the car in flames. The leader’s body was left “incinerated” and his two bodyguards also killed.

A similar drone strike on Sunday in Marib province, east of the Yemeni capital Sana’a, killed five suspected Al-Qaeda militants.

The United States considers the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to be the radical group’s most dangerous branch.

SDF Says Raqqa to be Part of Decentralized Syria, Hails ‘Historic Victory’

The defeat of ISIS in its Syrian bastion of Raqqa was a “historic” achievement, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces that led the months-long battle said Friday, adding the city would be part of decentralized Syria.

“We dedicate this historic victory to all humanity,” said Talal Sello, spokesman for the Kurdish-led SDF, at an official ceremony in the city.

“We in the general command of the Syrian Democratic Forces announce that we will hand over the administration of the city of Raqqa and the surrounding countryside to the internal security forces in Raqqa,” Sello added, referring to part of a civil authority set up for the city.

But Sello said the handover would not be immediate, with SDF fighters – who took full control of Raqqa on Tuesday -still combing the city, which lies in ruins and littered with explosives.

“After the end of clearing operations… we will hand over the city to the Raqqa Civil Council,” he said.

The RCC was created some six months ago, and is made up of local officials and tribal leaders who will face the daunting task of rebuilding the city.

“We pledge to protect the borders of the province against all external threats, and we confirm that the future of Raqqa province will be determined by its people within the framework of a decentraliized, federal democratic Syria in which the people of the province will run their own affairs,” the SDF said, according to Reuters.

In a highly symbolic move, the press conference was held inside Raqqa’s sports stadium which ISIS militants had turned into an arms depot and a huge prison where they incarcerated and tortured their opponents.

Standing before a backdrop of shattered buildings, Sello urged the international community and aid organizations to assist with the city’s reconstruction.

Raqqa become the de facto Syrian capital of ISIS’ self-styled “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq after the terrorist group captured it in 2014.

The SDF, a Kurdish-Arab alliance backed by the US-led coalition, broke into the city in June after months of fighting to surround it.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor estimates over 3,000 people, at least a third of them civilians, were killed in the fighting.

Associated Press drone footage from Raqqa showed the extent of devastation caused by weeks of fighting and thousands of bombs dropped by the US-led coalition.

Footage from Thursday shows the bombed-out shells of buildings and heaps of concrete slabs lay piled on streets littered with destroyed cars. Entire neighborhoods are seen turned to rubble, with little sign of civilian life.

The video showed entire blocks in the city as uninhabitable with knocked-out walls and blown-out windows and doors, while some buildings had several stories turned to piles of debris. The stadium appears to have suffered less damage compared with surrounding buildings.

Chevron Suspends Drilling Activity in Kurdistan

Chevron has temporarily suspended oil and gas drilling activity in Iraqi Kurdistan, the company said on Thursday, in the latest setback to the region following recent unrest.

“Chevron has decided to temporarily suspend its operations,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement.

In September, Chevron drilled its first exploration well in Iraqi Kurdistan after a two-year break.

“We remain in regular contact with the Kurdistan Regional Government. We look forward to resuming our operations as soon as conditions permit.”

On the other hand, the Iraqi oil ministry reacted angrily on Thursday after Russian energy giant Rosneft signed a production sharing deal with the authorities in the autonomous Kurdish region without its approval.

The agreement came hot on the heels of Baghdad’s recapture from Kurdish forces of five oil fields in disputed territory outside the autonomous region in retaliation for an independence vote last month.

“This department and the Iraqi federal government are the only two bodies with whom agreements should be reached for the development and investments in the energy sector,” the ministry said in a statement, without mentioning Rosneft by name.

Oil Minister Jabbar al-Luaybi condemned the “irresponsible announcements coming from certain officials in Iraq or abroad, or from foreign companies about their intention to conclude deals with parties in Iraq without the federal government being aware.”

Putin: Russia Hopes to Broaden Cooperation with US

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he hoped Moscow could cooperate with Washington in a broader range of fields.

“We have dialogue at the work level and on the level of the special services, the defense ministries, the foreign ministries. We achieve joint results,” Putin said at a forum with scholars. “We have to expand our cooperation to other spheres.”

Putin also said that Moscow was not concerned about a US military build-up in the Baltic region.

“We are analyzing it, watching this closely. Every one of their steps are known and clear to us,” Putin said at a forum with scholars. “This doesn’t worry us. Let them train there, everything is under control.”

Commenting on the chances of closing of Russia’s borders with rebel regions in eastern Ukraine, Putin said it would result in a “Srebrenica-like massacre”, referring to the mass killing of Muslims during the 1992-95 Bosnian War.

He said Europe was to blame for the Ukraine crisis and that only European powers could act to change the situation.

Putin added that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was being pressured by the US to prevent Russia from taking part in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

“We are seeing that the IOC is under strong pressure,” Putin said at a forum with scholars.

“It relies on advertisers, television channels, sponsors, and so on. And these sponsors are receiving unambiguous signals from certain American institutions.”

Madrid Threatens Catalonia with Direct Rule amid Independence Bid

Spain’s central government threatened Thursday it will press ahead with suspending Catalonia’s autonomy after the region’s leader Carles Puigdemont warned he may declare independence.

The central government in Madrid had given Puigdemont until 10:00 am (0800 GMT) on Thursday to say whether or not he was declaring a breakaway state in the semi-autonomous region following the referendum on October 1.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had warned he would trigger Article 155 of Spain’s constitution — a never-before-used measure allowing it to impose direct rule over the northeastern region — unless the separatist leader backed down.

There are fears that such a move, allowing the government to potentially suspend Puigdemont’s government and take over its police force, could spark unrest in the region.

Puigdemont responded Thursday that Catalan lawmakers could vote to declare secession unilaterally if Madrid triggers Article 155.

“If the central government persists in preventing dialogue and continuing repression, Catalonia’s parliament could proceed… to vote for a formal declaration of independence,” he wrote in a letter to Rajoy, adding that a cryptic “suspended” independence declaration he issued last week did not amount to breaking away.

The government hit back by saying it intends to push on with triggering Article 155 — a process that would take several days — to “restore legality” in the region.

In an unprecedented move since Spain returned to democracy in the late 1970s, Rajoy called an emergency cabinet meeting for Saturday to specify how it will take control over the region.